Clarkson Was Good
Erinna Mettler (University of Sussex, United Kingdom)
The man in the white coat holds out his hand. What is he an ice-cream man or something? He stands at the door holding it open and grins at Bill.
‘Hello Bill, I’m Doctor Patrick.’
Bill goes for a handshake but realizes he’s holding a walking stick. He looks down at it, wondering where he got it and why he needs it. It must be something to do with the fight—a busted knee or something.
‘Shall I take your stick Bill?’
It’s that girl again. Pretty little thing. She’s been hanging around him for days. Not that he’s complaining—big blue eyes and tits like beach balls. She’s trying to hide it all under that plain blue dress but she can’t cover up the movie-star curves. She’s not wearing any make-up either. Funny that—no make-up—girls usually like to wear make-up; red lips and eyeliner to set off their blonde hair, high heels and tight skirts. Improving on nature’s gifts. Like his Eileen. Where is Eileen anyway? He hasn’t seen her since the fight. She’s probably with the kids.
The girl smiles at him and takes the stick out of his hand.
‘Here, sit down Bill.’
It’s a right palaver to get into the chair. He must have taken more of a beating than he thought. It doesn’t help that there’s a desk in the way. Bill’s legs are stiff and he has a pain in his back and all down his legs. The man in the white coat takes his stick from him and the girl guides him sideways until he’s standing in front of the chair then she leans over him, her hands under his armpits and those magnificent breasts rub against his face as she lowers him down into the seat. He smiles up at her. He’s having evil thoughts—and him a married man.
She crouches at his feet and squeezes his hand.
‘You okay Bill? I’ll be right outside. Doctor Patrick just wants to ask you a few questions.’
He looks at her big blue eyes, like sapphires—like Eileen’s.
‘OK darlin’, anything you say. What was your name again?’
‘Man oh man – what a name. OK Cherry.’
He watches her go as far as the pain in his shoulder will allow. What a wiggle, even in her old-lady shoes, imagine her in heels. She smiles at him again and shuts the door quietly.
‘Bye Cheryl,’ he says.
Bill faces front, glad to release his shoulder from the effort of turning his head—Clarkson must’ve really laid into him before he went down.
This bloke here’s not as pretty as Cheryl and he’s smiling like an idiot. Face all covered in freckles; they reach right up over his bald patch, little piggy eyes and white lashes. No oil-painting that’s for sure. Bill smiles back; his mother taught him to always return a smile.
‘Be nice,’ she used to say, ‘it won’t cost you a thing.’
The man in the white coat rests Bill’s stick against the desk and then sits down at the big black chair behind it. Bill watches him in silence as he picks up a pen and scribbles on some sort of form with terrible scrawly handwriting. Bill leans forward to get a better look but it’s impossible to see what he’s writing; it’s like a spider tap-danced in some ink and then ran across the page. When he’s finished he looks across at Bill and smiles again but it’s a fake smile, one that’s painted on.
‘Well Bill, I’d like to ask you a few questions if I may. It’s not a test so don’t worry.’
‘Is it about the fight? Clarkson—is he alright?’
‘No Bill, it’s not about the fight—just a few easy questions.’
‘Could you tell me your name?’
‘Well you just called me Bill so I’m guessing you know it already.’
Bill narrows his eyes.
‘Am I under arrest or suming? It was a fair fight. Clarkson knew what he was doing.’
The man in the white coat smiles his fake smile again.
‘No no. Like I said, it’s not about the fight—just a few questions. Now, what day is it?’
‘And the month?’
‘Well, last year July was in the summer—same the year before that—so I’m guessing it’s the same this year.’
‘And the year?’
‘1959 of course.’
The man in the white coat looks away from him and writes down some numbers.
‘So, can you tell me where you are?’
‘Actually I was hoping you could tell me.’
‘Okay—how about the country?’
‘Yes—what country are we in?’
This guy’s a prize idiot.
‘City of London—it’s a city and a county. The capital city. Don’t you know where you are?’
‘Yes Bill I know where we are. I just want to know if you do.’
Bill smiles indulgently.
‘Do you know the name of the hospital?’
‘Hospital? Oh I see; I’m in hospital am I? Clarkson must’ve hit me harder than I thought. Knocked him out in the fifth—put up a good fight though. He’s okay isn’t he?’
‘I’m sure he is. Do you know the name of the hospital?’
Silence. Bill shakes his head.
‘No. I must’ve been out of it when they brought me in. Is that why my leg hurts? Did I land on my knee again? It’s not been right since that bout up in Newcastle. Didn’t do so well up there. Made up for it with Clarkson though—what a fight!’
‘Do you know what floor we’re on?’
Bill sniffs and looks at his hand; his tattoo of a flying bird, that used to soar brightly on the back of it, is almost entirely covered in a green and purple tinge that blurs the edges of its open wings.
‘My hand’s in a bit of a state isn’t it? What a bruise. Still a bucket of ice will take that right down.’
‘Bill? What floor are we on?’
‘Look, I didn’t even know I was in hospital until you just said, so I’m not going to have a clue about the floor am I? Do you box Mr…?’
‘Doctor Patrick. No Bill I don’t box.’
Bill looks him up and down; he’s a bit thin but he could soon bulk up.
‘You should take it up.’
The man in the white coat smiles his fake smile again but he looks Bill in the eye this time; everyone’s interested in boxing. Bill carries on.
‘There’s nothing like it. Keeps you fit, keeps you sharp. Nothing gets passed me. Welter-weight I am, like Sugar Ray; it’s the best category, light enough to spring around the ring but heavy enough to do some serious damage. Dazes you a bit—a good match. Can take a couple of days to get over it. When you’ve got the right opponent it’s like a fucking ballet. You dance with each other. He meets every move—anticipates everything you’ve got and then, just when you think there’s no way to get him, you see it—the opening, the weakness—and BAM! He’s down. Clarkson, he was good, but I put him down in the fifth —never got up again.’
Bill punches his right hand into his left—it hurts, from his knuckles to his elbow. He winces.
‘You okay Bill?’
He nods but it takes a minute for the pain to go. He must’ve cracked something when he laid Clarkson out.
‘Now Bill. Can you name the three things on the table?’
Bill leans forward to look and covers his top lip with his bottom one and twitches his nose. His lips smack as he parts them, his teeth feel weird. Maybe he lost a couple—in the fight.
‘Four. There are four things on the table. An apple, a penny, a watch and a stack of paper. Which three do you want me to name?’
The man in the white coat puts down his pen and smiles properly for the first time.
‘You know what Bill you are quite right—there are four things on the table. I wasn’t counting the paper.’
‘Do I get an extra point for that?’
The man in the white coat laughs.
‘No Bill, no extra points. Like I said it’s not a test.’
‘If you say so—but the way I see it, if you’re asking me questions and you want answers, then it’s a test.’
‘What are the three, sorry four things that were on the table?’
Bill looks down; there’s only the paper left. He waggles his finger at the man in the white coat.
‘You’re trying to trick me. Paper. Apple. Penny. Clock.’
‘Apple. Penny. Clock.’
‘One last time.’
Bill’s annoyed now and this time he grinds the words though closed lips.
‘Paper. Penny. Clock.’
‘Now Bill. Do you know who the Prime Minister is?’
‘Oh man. The questions you ask. My son knows the answer to that one and he’s only five.’
‘I know it seems odd but it would really help me if you could just answer the questions, no matter how silly they seem.’
‘I know what this is—Clarkson laid on a few head punches didn’t he? You’re checking for brain damage.’
He taps his head with his finger making a hollow knock.
‘Nothing wrong with my brain Doc—it can just take a couple of days to get over a fight is all.’
‘The Prime Minister?’
Bill stretches his hand. The bird’s wings spread with the bruise.
‘It’s that dancer fella isn’t it? Never could stand him—should’ve stuck to dancing—done us all a favour.’
Doctor Patrick scratches his bald patch.
‘I’m pulling your leg—I know it’s Tony Blair. I like to pretend I think it’s Lionel Blair, you know the dancer? Winds the missus up—she likes that Tony Blair—bit smarmy if you ask me.’
He gets a flash in his brain of an old lady watching the news on TV. She’s talking to him about the news, about Tony Blair, but he can’t hear what she’s saying. He doesn’t know who she is; her face is familiar. It’s not his mother. It’s there at the back of his mind but right now he can’t get to it.
‘You with us Bill?’
‘I asked you if you could spell WORLD backwards.’
Bill’s eyes ache.
‘You did? Why on earth would I want to do that? Had enough trouble at school spelling things frontwards—now you want me to spell ‘em backwards.’
‘I don’t want to. Where’s that girl? Cheryl. She’s much more fun than you.’
‘Nurse Jones will be here for you soon, take you back to the ward. Just a couple more questions. Can you repeat the following? No ifs ands or buts.
‘Can you repeat it?’
‘Yes—no ifs ands or buts.’
‘Oh sorry Gov—was waitin’ for you to say suming I had to repeat. No ifs ands or buts it is then is it?’
‘Yes Bill—that’s it—no ifs ands or buts.’
‘No tits hands or butts.’
The man in the white coat smiles again, another proper smile. He looks down at the form and scribbles on it.
‘Now, can you take a piece of paper from the table, fold it in half and put it on the floor?’
Bill leans forward and picks up a sheet of paper. His hand shakes, the paper flaps like a frightened bird and escapes his fingers, swooping to the floor behind his chair. Bill rubs his hand.
‘Must’ve smacked him hard when he went down. Think I’ve broken a few bones. Need a bucket of ice. Maybe that lovely Cheryl could get me one.’
‘Do you want to try it again?’
‘Well, how important is it to you to have a folded piece of paper? Cos me, I’m not bothered at all.’
The man in the white coat pushes another piece of paper and a pencil across the table towards Bill.
‘Can you read this and do what it says?’
Bill looks at the paper, squints and then closes his eyes.
‘Good. Now the next bit?’
A loud snore fills the room.
Bill opens one eye and grins.
‘I’m pulling your leg Guv.’
He picks up the pencil with his right hand. It shakes violently but he holds it steady with his left hand at the wrist and scrawls on the paper then pushes it back to the man in the white coat. The man smiles and turns the paper round to see what Bill has written.
‘Now Bill can you copy this shape?’
‘Actually Guv my hand’s a bit sore. Must’ve been when I floored Clarkson. Need a bucket of ice—that’ll set me right.’
‘Okay Bill—I think that’s enough for today. I’ll get Nurse Jones to take you back to the ward. Your son is waiting for you there.’
‘Billy? Don’t be daft Guv. Billy’s at school. He’s a good kid little Billy—a fantastic right hook, just like his old man. Clever mind—he’ll be doing his eleven plus this year, teachers say he’ll probably get into the Grammar School. Takes after his mother that way…’
The man in the white coat goes to the door.
‘Nurse Jones—could you take Bill back to the ward now?’
She comes in with a wheelchair. Is that for him? He can think of worse things than being pushed around by a beautiful girl and he’s tired now.
‘I need a bucket of ice for my hand,’ he says to her, ‘Clarkson—he was good but he was no match for my right hook, went down in the fifth he did. Is he alright?’
Erinna lives in Brighton with her young family. She worked as a researcher at the British Film Institute in London for many years. She is now in the second year of an MA in Creative Writing and authorship at the University of Sussex and, if everything goes to plan, will have her first book, a cross between a short story collection and a novel, published next year.